Will Lahaina’s 150-Year-Old Banyan Tree Survive the Devastating Maui Wildfires?

Lahaina Banyan Tree Park on Maui, Hawaii

Photo: nadik29/Depositphotos

The Hawaiian island of Maui is dealing with one of the biggest disasters in its history. As of August 14, the deadly wildfires continue to ravage the island. According to CNN, the death toll has risen to 99, with hundreds of people still unaccounted for. On top of the tragic loss of life and the people who have sadly lost everything, the cultural heritage of Hawai'i has also taken a massive blow. In Lahaina, one of the most affected areas, the status of a natural landmark has raised concerns. Will the beloved banyan tree survive the fires?

To truly understand the significance the banyan tree holds in the local community, one must look at its history. The banyan fig, which now stands 60 feet tall, was first planted in 1873 when it was an 8-foot-tall sapling. It was planted by the sheriff to mark the 5oth anniversary of the arrival of the first protestant mission. The Ficus benghalensis is not a species native to Hawai'i. It was actually shipped from India, becoming a symbol of Hawai'i's burgeoning multicultural exchange.

Ever since then, the banyan tree has become a gathering point for the local community. In a guest essay for The New York Times, author Julia Flynn Siler describes a regular scene around the tree before the fire: “Generations of schoolchildren played under its shady canopy on school trips (and were warned by their teachers not to climb on its branches or swing on its tempting aerial roots) amid the clucking and crowing of the wild chickens that roosted on its branches. At Christmas its branches were festooned with colored lights.”

Given recent events, this might change. However, though the tree caught fire, the latest report on the Lahaina banyan tree offers some hope. Kimberly Flook, deputy executive director for the Lahaina Restoration Foundation, told Los Angeles Times that there's reason for optimism, given that multiple wooden benches under the tree also survived the blaze. “There’s certainly evidence of scarring, and a lot is covered in ash,” she said. Still, there's no way to determine how bad the damage is. “A tree that’s gone through a fire that has even partial viable material can survive,” Flook said.

Meanwhile, CBS News reports that the tree is “heavily charred—but still standing.” Hawai'i Gov. Josh Green said that despite being burned, the tree is “still breathing” and continues to absorb water and produce sap, just less than it usually does. “It's like a burn victim itself,” Green said. “Traumatized, much like the town.”

“The general feeling is that there are signs of hope along with evidence of damage,” Flook said, adding that a plan is being put in place to give the tree the best possible chance to survive with the appropriate care. She said, “If it can pull through, it would be an absolutely amazing symbol.”

Will the beloved Lahaina banyan tree survive the devastating Maui fires?

Lahaina Banyan Tree Park on Maui, Hawaii

Photo: PiKappa/Depositphotos

“The general feeling is that there are signs of hope along with evidence of damage,” said Kimberly Flook, deputy executive director for the Lahaina Restoration Foundation.

h/t: [Smithsonian Magazine]

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Regina Sienra

Regina Sienra is a Staff Writer at My Modern Met. Based in Mexico City, Mexico, she holds a bachelor’s degree in Communications with specialization in Journalism from the National Autonomous University of Mexico. She has 10+ years’ experience in Digital Media, writing for outlets in both English and Spanish. Her love for the creative arts—especially music and film—drives her forward every day.
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